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Friday, May 18, 2012

Interleague Baseball or What's Wrong with the World

"What?  You don't like interleague basebal?"
In 1997, under the leadership of commissioner Bud Selig, Major League baseball introduced interleague baseball.  Up until that point, teams from the American League and the National League did not play each other until the World Series, a wonderful tradition.

But Major League baseball dumped tradition in 1997, and Selig plans to expand interleague baseball in the coming years (see Keith Olbermann's lament about this here).  Interleague baseball commences again today for the 2012 season, and I will watch my beloved Blue Jays play the New York Mets, but I will do so begrudgingly only because a baseball game of any sort (interleague or otherwise) is still more wonderful than almost anything else in the world.  I am, I know, in the minority in vocalizing my opposition to interleague baseball (most baseball fans like it and most people in general don't care).  I dislike interleague baseball for a myriad of reasons. It creates uneven schedules for teams, even teams within the same division; it leads to pitchers hitting who never hit otherwise (and therefore to a lower quality of baseball); and it takes some of the magic out of the World Series, which used to be the only time one would see a National League team and an American League team play.

But the presence of interleague baseball is even more troubling to me, because I think it points to something endemic to our society.  And that is, the willingness and even desire to break the 'bondage' of tradition.  Of course, I am a Roman Catholic historical theologian, and as such, my reference to tradition should be hardly surprising.  But I find that I'm in the minority when it comes to valuing the witness of those before us.

I should note that I'm not opposed to change, whether that change be theological, liturgical, moral, or structural.  But I am opposed to change that doesn't take seriously what our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, and beyond have had to say about whatever it is that we want to change.  There seems to me to be a certain arrogance that characterizes so much of our political, theological, and moral discourse.  We seem to believe that we necessarily know more than our forebears, that we're progressing past them, and therefore that we can and should easily dismiss whatever they may have valued for the sake of something supposedly better.  There are, of course, times when change must occur.  But all change needs to occur in conversation with our ancestors, not by speaking over them so as to shut them out.

This picture was, sadly, not taken in October.
In the case of interleague baseball, there was a long tradition of a separate American League and National League, both of which emerged and developed for different historical reasons.  And the tradition of having those teams from each league meet only in the World Series was one that made the World Series something special and exciting.

Did baseball's violation of these traditions make the game markedly better?  It did allow for some regional rivalries that supposedly bring more gate receipts than other games might.  But did it make the game better?  Is baseball better off with interleague play?

I don't think it is, and the expansion of interleague play appears further to diminish a game that thankfully is so beautiful and profound that it can withstand the meddling of troublesome owners and a commissioner who doesn't appear to understand the game he oversees.  Tradition serves a central purpose culturally, theologically, politically, morally, and even athletically.  It frequently preserves that which is worthwhile and beautiful in a manner that is frequently intangible.  Our predecessors need to be given more of the benefit of the doubt.

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